DECEMBER 14, 2012

by Gar Anthony Haywood

There’s an elephant in the room, and its name is “Newtown.”

Sure, I could pretend it isn’t there.  Post something today similar to all my other posts in the past, an essay on writing or the writer’s life that would amuse or inform but say nothing whatsoever about the nightmare we’ve all been living since last Friday.  But I’m not going to do that.  This seat I have at the Murderati round table is an opportunity to contribute to the discussion we as citizens of this great nation must have, and have now, regarding responsible gun ownership, if we are to avoid such horrific events in the future, and hell if I’m not going to take advantage of it.

We authors here at Muderati, as the blog’s very name implies, write about murder every day.  To varying degrees, death is our stock in trade.  Whether we write about single-victim crimes of passion or serial killers who claim multiple lives, we are all deliberately counting on the perverse thrill readers find in the act of one person murdering another to sell books, so being silent on the subject of the Newtown massacre, as if we are wholly unqualified to discuss such matters, would seem somewhat cowardly to me.  None of us have all the answers — we barely know all the questions — but I’m certain each of us has some idea why those 26 people — 20 of them small children — died in Newtown, Connecticut, last week, and what we can do — what we must do — to try and make it the last tragedy of its kind on American soil.

I’ve decided to couch my statement, such as it is, in the form of a point-by-point response to what I believe is the general attitude most intelligent, reasonable gun rights advocates have toward this crisis, based upon the online comments I’ve seen some make on Facebook and elsewhere.  That attitude goes something like this:

  1. First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families who lost children in the Sandy Hill Elementary School shooting.  No one grieves for those kids or their parents more than we do.
  2. However, what happened in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday was not about guns.  It was about mental illness.
  3. No gun control law could have prevented this tragedy.
  4. Further, no gun control law can ever guarantee that such terrible events will not occur in the future.
  5. Gun control laws only serve to inhibit the ability of law-abiding citizens to secure weapons of self-defense.  Properly motivated, criminals and the mentally disturbed will always find ways to arm themselves.
  6. Any attempt by the government to limit the kind of weapons a U.S. citizen can legally acquire is an infringement upon our Constitutional right to bear arms, and should be viewed as the first step down the slippery slope that inevitably leads to tyranny.
  7. We can’t allow the emotions of the moment to spur us into taking legislative actions we may regret later.
  8. As tragic and heartbreaking as the deaths of 20 innocent children are, this is a relatively small price to pay for the freedoms our Founding Fathers granted us.

To which I would reply:

  1. I’m quite sure this is true.
  2. Actually, it was about mental illness combined with a Bushmaster AR-15 rifle and two handguns: a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm.  All legally purchased by the shooter’s mother, who needed such an arsenal for self-defense like Donald Trump needs a home equity loan.
  3. Prevented?  Perhaps not.  But a ban on the AR-15 — such as that which was in effect until 2004, when Congress repealed it — would have gone a long way toward making this tragedy infinitely less deadly.
  4. Can we please stop talking about gun control as if it has to eliminate every gun-related homicide for all time in order to serve any purpose?  Traffic laws don’t prevent all speed-related accidents, but surely we can agree that our streets are a hell of a lot safer with such laws in effect.  Merriam-Webster defines “control,” in part, as “to reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels.”  Get it?  Gun control is about the reduction of gun-related crime, not the eradication of it.  Opposing any form of gun control on the grounds it can’t accomplish the impossible is both foolish and indefensible.
  5. Again, sensible gun control laws aren’t designed to keep guns out of the hands of every bad person who wants one — they’re simply designed to make the task of acquiring a gun as difficult as possible for criminals and the mentally unstable.  Sure, a highly motivated nutcase could probably find someone somewhere to sell him an illegal handgun, but not with the ease of going down to his local gun show and picking one off the shelf, no questions asked.  Gun control laws create layers of complexity in the process of acquiring a firearm that not every criminal or would-be murderer is up to dealing with.  Dissuading those who would use a gun to harm others from seeking one out is the logical first step in preventing gun-related homicides, and it shouldn’t be dismissed as ineffectual simply because its reach is not absolute.
  6. I don’t want to say this is paranoid bullshit, but it’s paranoid bullshit.  Every law ever enacted could potentially lead to a slippery slope; slippery slopes are everywhere if one cares to look for them.  Our government is imperfect, and it deserves something far less than our unquestioning trust, but staying up at night worrying about it becoming an authoritarian gulag any time soon is the rational equivalent of wearing a colander on your head to keep the Martians from reading your thoughts.  While you fret over being ever-vigilant for the first signs of democracy’s decay, kindergartners are being sacrificed at the altar of your ignorance.  Wake up and take fresh stock of your priorities.
  7. On the contrary, no moment in our history has called out for us to change our way of thinking about guns with greater urgency than this one.  If we don’t do it now, we never will.
  8. I vehemently disagree, and suspect every parent who lost a child in Newtown, Connecticut, would as well.

I’m a father of four children.  Up to now, I’ve been happy to watch the gun control debate from afar.  Who needs my opinion?  I write about crimes that are merely fictional, why should anyone care what I think?

But silence isn’t going to work for me any more.  Whether twenty children dead is sufficient cause for others to demand change or not, it is more than enough for me.

To those of you still unmoved, clinging yet to the idea that we dare not let what happened in Newtown inspire us to question the sanctity of our Second Amendment rights, I will leave you with a comment I made to a similarly recalcitrant gun-rights advocate on Facebook earlier this week:

“We can’t keep giving these people EASY access to WEAPONS DESIGNED FOR WARFARE. The caps here are significant, because they’re meant to make it clear that I am not advocating a ban on weapons reasonable people could own and use for self-defense, nor am I suggesting that there’s anything we could do to keep ALL assault weapons out of the hands of crazy people. The time has come for us to MAKE IT SIGNIFICANTLY MORE DIFFICULT for average citizens to buy any kind of weapon that can kill dozens of people in a matter of seconds. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, can make an intelligent argument for allowing people like you and me, let alone sick bastards like the Newtown shooter, to buy a fucking assault rifle that does not boil down to ‘because it would be fun to play with, and the Constitution says I should have the right.’ And don’t give me any of that ‘well-armed militia’ crap, either, because that’s just a crux people use to justify the war games they like to play in their backyard. If the death of 20 kids in the span of a half-hour isn’t enough to convince you people that something about the way we worship the Almighty 2nd Amendment in this country has to change, how many dead kids WILL it take? 40? 100? What’s the number that’ll finally move you to surrender your right to legally buy a goddamn AR-15?”

I’m still waiting for his answer.

31 thoughts on “DECEMBER 14, 2012

  1. Dana King

    Well put.

    I've lost at least one Facebook friend (that I know of) over this, and it's worth it not to succumb to the–as you so deftly put it–paranoid bullshit. I advocate gun control, not gun abolition. As Joe Scarborough–no bleeding heart–put it so well, we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. No gun control law will stop all of these things from happening. But limiting the firepower, and making background checks tight enough to remove most of those who should not have guns in the first place would help. If the shooter has to reload after every handful of shots, that's an opportunity for someone to get to him. Assault rifles such a the AR-15 were designed to do as much tissue damage as possible for war situations. They are not, and were never intended to be, hunting or target rifles. There is a great deal of practical, common sense gun control that can be practiced without damaging the right of people to feel secure in their homes and persons.

  2. John Gilstrap

    Hi, Gar.

    Nice post, though your answer to #5 never actually addressed the issue of ownership by law-abiding citizens.

    There's a lot more rancor in this national debate than is necessary right now because no one knows what "stricter controls" might mean. For that matter, a sampling of Facebook rants shows wide disagreement on what an "assault weapon" is. Some talk about the cosmetics of a Bushmaster (which is silly), others talk about the large caliber (many hunting rifles are fire a much larger bullet a much greater distance than the Bushmaster .223), and others still talk about "machine guns" which already require a special license in the US, and which the Bushmaster is not. Thus, in the minds of those who understand guns, an "assault weapons ban" could easily include a wide variety of sports weapons.

    This lack of understanding, and the resultant failure of communication, is precisely why it is a mistake to push through legislation without proper vetting. No good decision–personal, professional or legislative–comes from high emotions. Patriot Act anyone?

    You ask in your referenced Facebook post, "What's the number that'll finally move you to surrender your right to legally buy a goddamn AR-15?" First of all, it's an attack question (a question asked in the heat of emotion –see above), and secondly, it paints the weapon as the bad guy. And lest you take that the wrong way, my son was at Virginia Tech in 2007 and lost several friends–one girl I'd known since he was in high school–so I'm not cold about any of this. The loss still hurts. But the asshole shooter at VT–the first deadliest mass shooting in US history, if scores are anything but disgusting–had no rifle at all. By your logic, what's the number that'll finally move YOU to surrender your right to buy a handgun? (By the way, I can't help but notice that the media hasn't mentioned the VT shootings much in the context of their reporting. I suspect it has something to do with the lack of a rifle at the crime scene.)

    Do politicians truly want real and meaningful gun control? If so, they should have the political courage to propose an amendment to the Second Amendment. Let's clarify that "militia" clause in the Constitution. If it passes Congress, and is ratified by three-quarters of the states, then the law will change. If it doesn't then we're stuck with what we have. While they're at it, the pols can change the First Amendment to prohibit the violent video games that more than a few are blaming as a component of this horror.

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I'll surrender my right to a handgun right now, John Gilstrap.

    You're claiming an assault weapons ban wouldn't have prevented Virginia Tech. But it WOULD have prevented or at least majorly diminished Newtown. As Gar is saying – we CAN'T prevent all shooting deaths. The point is to LIMIT them.

  4. Dana King

    a definition of assault rifle can be easily hammered out. "Semi-automatic long guns (including shotguns)" comes ot mind. Bolt-action rifles and pump shotguns? Fine. But if the rifle/shotgun fires every time you pull the trigger until it's empty, it has no function except to kill. That's why they're designed that way.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Gar, absolutely excellent post, thank you. You've summed up the pro-gun arguments I've been seeing all week, and answered them perfectly.

    The one thing you left out of the pro-gun canon is "It's shameful that people are using this tragedy to push their political agenda."

    Yes, it's a political act to call for immediate action to remove as many high powered weapons from circulation as we possibly can. Yes, we're getting political to prevent more deaths. I don't find that shameful. Shameful is NOT acting to prevent more deaths.

    And yes, criminals will always be able to find weapons. But it's not CRIMINALS who are shooting up our schools. There's no money for them in shooting up schools. These massacres are by troubled young men and boys who are VERY often getting these now-legal weapons from their own parents.

  6. Gar Haywood

    John: Your thoughtful and well-reasoned response here gives me hope that we Americans can work this thing out to the satisfaction of everyone: People who believe in responsible gun ownership and those who don't. I'd say the only problem I have with what you've said here is the gray area you seem to suggest permeates any attempt to classify what kind of weapon should or should not be legally banned in this country. This is basically the same argument that has kept any form of meaningful gun control at bay for years. Determining the criteria for a sensible weapons ban shouldn't really be all that difficult. How about we start with how many rounds the damn thing can fire per second and go from there? There's no doubt the shooter in Newtown (I refuse to use the sumbitch's name) could have done a lot of damage with just the two handguns he was armed with, but the AR-15 almost took competence out of the equation. Eliminate his mother's capacity to buy that gun legally and there's a good chance we aren't even having this discussion, because the death rate at Sandy Hill Elementary would have been too low to spur this national debate. (Sad but true.)

    Or here's another way to state my opinion on what should be banned and what shouldn't: Arm yourself with your favorite two handguns and hide in a closet. An intruder enters your home and finds you. Any weapon you wouldn't want to see him armed with, strapped as you are, is probably more gun than any American needs for self-protection. Ban it.

    The end.

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    "Or here's another way to state my opinion on what should be banned and what shouldn't: Arm yourself with your favorite two handguns and hide in a closet. An intruder enters your home and finds you. Any weapon you wouldn't want to see him armed with, strapped as you are, is probably more gun than any American needs for self-protection. Ban it."


  8. Alaina

    "Or here's another way to state my opinion on what should be banned and what shouldn't: Arm yourself with your favorite two handguns and hide in a closet. An intruder enters your home and finds you. Any weapon you wouldn't want to see him armed with, strapped as you are, is probably more gun than any American needs for self-protection. Ban it."

    Can I just quote you on this? Everywhere?

  9. Dana King

    ""Or here's another way to state my opinion on what should be banned and what shouldn't: Arm yourself with your favorite two handguns and hide in a closet. An intruder enters your home and finds you. Any weapon you wouldn't want to see him armed with, strapped as you are, is probably more gun than any American needs for self-protection. Ban it."

    This is the only thing you've said today I disagree with. I would not want to see an intruder with a shotgun in this scenario, yet shotguns are excellent home protection weapons, if you feel you need one. First, since my greatest desire is not to have to use the damn thing in the first place, they give the intruder every opportunity to do the right thing and get the hell out. Pumping the first shell into place makes the unmistakable chik-chik sound, which should tell him what he's up against. Then I'd fill the first round with rock salt, bird shot, or rat shot. Not lethal, but will hurt like hell and could cause a relatively serious injury, depending on where he gets shot. If he still doesn't get the message, all the rest are buckshot. My conscience is as clear as it's going to get by that time.

    Another benefit to a shotgun is I don't have to worry as much about missing while I'm shaking like a leaf.

    Step 1 should, of course, be a burglar alarm. That should send someone out of the house as soon as it goes off. As with all arguments here, rational people know all such violent acts cannot be eliminated. As with burglar and car security systems, the objective is to make it as difficult as possible, to deter impulse incidents.

  10. Charlie Stella

    A version of the following will be on my blog tomorrow night.

    Newton, Connecticut … Aside from condolences to the families of the victims, TK (Temporary Knucksline) doesn’t have much to say about the tragedy in Connecticut last week. I’ve read and engaged in about half a dozen gun control debates, mostly observing, because I’m neither a gun enthusiast nor a pacifist. Ultimately, I don’t have much to add. When my kids were small, we didn’t keep a gun in the house, but that was my paranoia more than anything else; no gun, no accidents. Later on when I did keep a gun, it wasn’t legal, but it was for protection. I got rid of it after a few years and was more comfortable for having done so.

    Friends of mine who are gun enthusiasts are about as responsible as one can be and I yield to their take on the following: The AR-15 is NOT an assault weapon; it is a clone of an assault weapon. Assault weapons are fully automatic. The AR-15 is a semi-automatic, the same as a the vast majority of handguns (Glocks, Sig Sauer’s, etc.). The streets and towns of America probably have more than enough guns to go around, but I don’t see how that changes without confiscation, and I don’t see confiscation happening in my lifetime. I don’t see the point in high capacity magazines, but then again, I don’t see the point in having a gun unless you’re an enthusiast, hunter, recreational user, etc., and then it’s really none of my business if you are. My wife has expressed interest more than once in learning how to shoot. I may keep a gun (or guns) in the house when it is just my wife and I alone as we age and become less able to defend ourselves without one, but we’re not there yet.

    I doubt anything having to do with guns would’ve prevented what happened last week in Connecticut. Yes, if there were no guns in America at all, the killer would’ve been forced to opt for another method of killing. The problem, of course, is there are <i>there are more than 129,817 federally licensed firearms dealers in the United States</i> alone. Those are the legal ones.

    So what is it we want to ban? The manufacture of semi-automatics across the board? Good luck with that. Guns in general? We’ll need even more luck, since millions are also imported to the U.S.

    So, I’m not against the all consuming term gun control, the type of gun control I’m seeing called for in general. Is it possible the body count in Connecticut would have been less had the killer’s mother not legally obtained an AR-15? Possibly. It is also possible it wouldn’t have been less. I’m told that a Glock or Sig Sauer could be reloaded with extra clips within 2-3 seconds. How can any of us know the answer to that? The police sirens “appear” to be what caused him to stop and kill himself. Do we know for sure?

    Again, I am neither a gun enthusiast nor a pacifist. Our emotions are heightened and we all want to do something, but is there really anything we can do aside from bolstering mental health with research and funding? Try pushing that one through in a capitalist society where banks are routinely excused from prosecution for fraud and money laundering (see HSBC last week for the latter), and so-called “entitlements” take precedence on a fiscal chopping block.

    Background checks, training, and maybe some jail time for violators of any gun law might help stem the overflow of weapons in our culture … and I’m all for it. When 40% of guns purchased at gun shows either require no background check or background checks are ignored, then maybe it’s time to put an end to gun shows (at least the ones that ignore the law), but let’s face it, we are/have become a culture of violence. It isn’t a good thing, but to offset such a culture will take much more than banning the AR-15. I doubt it’s even a start when one takes into account so many other weapons are also semi-automatic and/or modeled or styled on the true automatic assault rifles (which the AR-15 is not). I repeat, the AR-15 is NOT an assault weapon … it just looks like one.

    That said, I’d feel a lot better if the fascination with guns, and/or the general feeling that we need them to protect ourselves wasn’t so prevalent … but here we are with both a fact of our American lives.

  11. Phillip Thomas Duck

    Thanks for this post. In addition to writing, I teach in an elementary school. Special Education Literacy, which illuminates not only the issue of violence in school but also mental illness/disability. My school happened to be in the process of a lockdown drill when the horrible incident took place in Newtown. As educators we stress to the children that our schools are safe, but as you so aptly pointed out, the issue goes deeper than safety protocols in place at our schools. We need to come up with sensible gun control laws. My daughter, a fifth grader, asked me poignant questions about her own school's safety after hearing the obligatory, "Our school is safe" message from her teachers/administrators. She wondered how her school could be safe when it mirrors S.H.E.S as far as protocols (locked front door, visitors have to be buzzed in, etc.). These were questions I couldn't answer for my daughter or my students, because my school mirrors S.H.E.S as well. I hope the politicians don't allow this issue to fall into a divisive debate. We NEED to do something. I've started with hugging my kids a little tighter. But that's just a beginning…

  12. J.F. Constantine

    Whooooooooop!!!! Right on, and right on again!!! Well said, every single word. You just go, GAR!

  13. Allison Davis

    For the first time in a long time, I immediately wrote to both my senators and asked them to do something about guns, guns with magazines loaded with 100 bullets, guns that have no purpose other than to kill a lot of people. I also asked that we stop treating our mentally ill by sending them to prison or housing them on the street (we need other alternatives). I signed petitions on "We the People." I sent Twitter and Facebook messages asking others to do the same. I gave money to Credo who is staging protests. I cannot just do nothing. Mrs. Lanza was afraid of her son, so she armed herself to make her feel better but what she did was hand him the instrument of her destruction. The rhetoric doesn't hold true anymore (if it ever did). Countries that ban certain types of guns have less deaths by guns. Had Mrs. Lanza not felt helpless in dealing with her mentally ill son, had she had help (Connecticut is one oft he worst states for mental health help) she might not have turned to guns. This tragedy has motivated many, and that is good. Something has to movtivate change and change we must. We cannot continue down this road.

    Gar, it must have been really hard to talk to your kids about this, that seems to be the most difficult. It makes no sense. Thanks for posting.

  14. Jake Nantz

    For a blog that (as one member once told me) tries very hard not to be political, this is awfully…political. So be it.

    First, I would never purport to feel anywhere close to as bad as those families, let alone worse. So #1 is irrelevant. But me? I'm a gun owner. I'm also a centrist who has never trusted the government, regardless what smiling liar about 20% of the country fights to elect (because no, the vast majority of citizens don't vote). I admit I generally lean right on fiscal issues, which may automatically cripple any career I hope to have in publishing, television, or Hollywood. But on social issues, I tend to be a mixed bag.

    Thing is the 2nd Amendment, to me, was about men and women armed with single-shot muskets reserving the right to overthrow a government armed with single-shot muskets if a large enough majority of those men and women agreed it was in their best interest as a nation. Those are the biggest things for me:
    1) That it's to maintain a level playing field (if the government ever turns more oppressive, they won't be relying solely on pistols, let alone just muskets), and
    2) that the decision comes from an overwhelming majority of the people (not a tiny elitist group located almost exclusively in major cities that considers themselves educated enough to decide what's best for the rest of us).

    Frankly, I think the proper enforcement of our current gun control laws would be pretty sufficient if they were actually enforced. Unfortunately, they aren't.

    And people can disagree with me, that doesn't bother me a bit. You can call me foolish, a nutcase, paranoid, or a tinfoil-hat crackpot conspiracy theorist. None of it will change my opinion, and I've found that having to resort to name-calling often says more about the speaker than the subject. I learned that as I witness it every day as a teacher. I would whole-heartedly give my life to stop a bullet from hitting my students. So while calling me those things, please also recognize that, since I teach in a high school, I am closer to being in the line of fire than many of you are when it comes to situations like this. And I would STILL feel more confident if I were allowed to carry at school to protect my students than to just hide with the doors locked and hope nothing bad happens before the police can arrive from however far away they are (which is essentially what we are trained to do).

    I would love to live in a world where bad people who want to do bad things will obey the law.

    But I live in a world where many of them don't, and I'd rather be prepared than hopeful. Just my opinion, though.

  15. John Gilstrap


    Seeking to define the gray areas are not a delaying tactic, it's a strategy to produce good legislation. I agree that something has to change in this country to stop the slaughter, but it's not a sound bite issue. To ban semi-automatic long guns, as Dana suggests, would include my vaunted Remington 1100 skeet gun, which has never shot anything but bird shot in the pursuit of a better score. (By the way, a load of bird shot at point blank range would be damn lethal.) Personally, I think that a limit on magazine capacity is a good start, but even that's a hard number to hammer down.

    When we start drilling down in a serious way to examine cause and effect in these shooting rampages, I suspect that the real demon will be one that makes us squirm. I don't think it's insignificant that the shooters in these mass murder incidents all fit the profile of young men who have spent their childhoods being largely invisible. We are fostering a generation for which texting doubles for real communication, and where video games about physical activity are more engaging than physical activity itself. Kids in my neighborhood don't play together anymore, but instead gather together to play separately in the same room. If they do engage in soccer or baseball or whatever, it's always done in the presence of an adult who adjudicates disputes on their behalf, thus depriving the kids of the need to interact and compromise on their own. Thankfully, most kids have the wherewithal to adapt. Some don't.

    This is the stuff of a longer and more comprehensive space than this, and I know that here it reads like an over-simplification, but consequences are always the result of actions. The tools of violence–in this case, guns–are certainly an important element in the larger equation, but they truly are only tools. No sane person would deploy them to kill innocents.

    The news is filled with the roots of these kids' desperation. Just last week, the NYT reported on teenage boys who tweeted pictures of a rape in progress. The victim was drunk to the point of unconsciousness, yet no one stepped forward to help her. We hear of bullying and teen suicides. Politicians shade the truth, call each other names, and have the vocal support of throngs who watch only the media that tells them what they want to hear.

    We are an angry society, an intolerant society. The flame wars on this very issue blaze out of control on the Internet. We need to start listening to those with whom we disagree and eke out compromise. It's true in forums such as this, it's true in Congress, and God knows it's true in schools.

    Thanks, Gar, for triggering a part of the discussion.

  16. Fran

    I voiced my thoughts here:, so I'm not going to restate that.

    I'm a middle-aged lesbian, and I'm not the demographic that is most likely to attack (despite Bill O'Reilly's assertion at one point that there are gangs of lesbians roaming the streets with pink Glocks); more likely I'll be attacked (which is why there are portions of the country in which I live that I will never visit). But I am a gun owner, not for protection, although I could certainly use it that way, but for target shooting. And folks generally insist that it isn't my little Browning .22 they want to take.

    Except it is, because it's semi-auto. There's such a wide range of guns that are semi-auto now.

    I'm all for regulation. I got into a discussion with a friend who's of the 'pry it out of my cold dead hands" variety, and I told him I didn't think that any civilian needed a gun with the capacity to shoot through the walls of your home and kill the guy next door. That's for the military. I'm with Dana – a shotgun is enough home protection for me.

    My discussion with my friend went well, because we were civil. People are just as passionate on this subject as they are on abortion, and sometimes I'm more frightened of the passionate political folks than I am of those who are mentally ill. There's so much extremism, on both sides, and there are substantially more of the passionate political variety who have no problems using violence to get their point across.

    We're steeped in gun culture, from the "romance" of the Wild West on, and realistically, there's no way anyone's going to get all the guns in America. But there can be more strongly enforced controls, including closing the gunshow loopholes.

    What I wish folks who are so adamant about using the 2nd Amendment to hoard guns would remember is that it states that it supports a "well-regulated" millitia. Regulation is the key, it's supported by the 2nd Amendment, and it needs to actually be used.

    My 2 cents, anyway.

  17. Gar Haywood

    Dana: I've got no problem with shotguns. But then, I don't think a shotgun would put the fear of God into too many people armed with a pair of handguns of their choice. Would a shotgun in the intruder's hands really make you feel outgunned under those circumstances? I suspect most gun enthusiasts given a loaded Glock to hold in their right hand and a Sig-Sauer in their left, would be happy to take their chances against someone with a shotgun. An AR-15, though? Probably not so much.

  18. Pari Noskin

    Really fascinating discussion today. I hope it continues too . . . especially since it's a discussion rather than rehashing diatribes.

    We all have our passionate positions in this issue. For me, with the gun "control" portion, it's the size of magazines. I don't understand why anyone nowadays in the U.S. — in urban or rural areas — would need the capacity to rapidly shoot bullets in multiples of 10s. I just don't get it.

    The bigger issue, to me, though, is the whole question of mental illness and how it's perceived in this country — the stigma, the lack of funding and reliable research from big pharma, the lack of accessibility and insurance formulas that make it difficult for many of the neediest to get and/or afford the services they need, the lack of trained professionals to help them — there is an endless list of problems with mental health care and delivery.

    This horrid act by one person — who appears to have had some real issues that deserved attention long before this awful incident — is also going to reinforce all the stereotypes about mental illness and "the mentally ill" that feed right back into the problems I mention in the paragraph above.

    As a parent, my heart breaks for the parents and families of those Newtown children and for the parents and families of those Newtown teachers. I hope some good comes of these terrible, terrible losses.

    Gar — and everyone discussing this issue today — thank you for being the considerate people you are.

  19. JD Rhoades

    " Would a shotgun in the intruder's hands really make you feel outgunned under those circumstances?"

    In my case, yes. But then, I've seen the damage a twin-barrel load of double-ought buckshot can do to a human body.

    The biggest advantage of a shotgun for home defense is that the load is a lot less likely to go through and through the person you shoot or that a miss will penetrate a wall and kill an innocent bystander.

    I simply don't accept the proposition you need high volume magazines for home defense, unless you're facing the Zombie Horde. If you can't put an intruder down with six rounds, then you need to be running like hell from him.

    Excellent post, Gar.

    Excellent post, BTW.

  20. PD Martin

    Gar, what a fabulous post.

    As someone living in Australia I've had a mixed response to this tragedy – as I think many Australians have. On the one hand I just can't bear to think about those parents whose children were murderered. The personal loss is too horrific to even put into words. And the ripple effect (personal ripple effect) is huge too – everyone who was there will never be the same again, and I also feel for the relatives of the shooter.

    But then part of me thinks 'What do you expect with America's gun law's?' Of course obviously no one EXPECTS someone to go into a school and start shooting, but there is that sense from the outside looking into the US of complete disbelief over the gun laws and attitudes. Sorry, just being honest. We/I just don't get it. Remembering, it's not just the laws, but the attitutdes they represent that are so far removed from Australia's gun laws and attitudes towards guns. We just find it completely bizarre that so many Americans own guns and/or want to own guns. Just incomprehensible.

    And of course, in terms of the legal debate, the truth is criminals and the mentally insane might still be able to get their hands on guns even with very strict laws. Australia is a case in point. We have very conservative gun laws and attitudes yet we saw one of the largest (maybe the largest?) spree killings at Port Arthur in 1996 (35 were shot dead).

    Also, wouldn't changing gun laws in the US have a bigger change on those spur of the moment murders? Here, people just don't have guns so it's not as simple as moving your finger a centimetre or two to kill someone. It has to be pre-meditated (even if a gun is used, you've got to try to get your hands on one, which is hard) or you're talking murdering by hand – which I think is a natural deterrent.

    Sorry if I've offended anyone with this comment – but I truly don't understand why the laws and attitudes towards guns in the US are the way they are. I'd rather be hiding in the closet with no weapons, knowing that in all likelihood the burglar also had no weapons.


  21. David Corbett


    Thanks for posting on this.

    I fasten on the phrase "responsible gun ownership." There's much talk of gun owner rights but what are the responsibilities? Is it simply enough to not kill anyone with your guns? Is that enough with car ownership?

    Gun registration became a third rail when gun owners convinced themselves it was the first step to confiscation. And yet who but a troubled soul truly believes that there is a mechanism for confiscating every gun in America? What law enforcement body has the manpower? Which cop wants to go door to door taking away people's guns?

    Before there can be responsible gun ownership, we have to have a responsible debate. And the fact that the NRA in particular has drawn a line in the sand with registration — which yes would make it more difficult for some people to own guns, but hardly impossible — makes me despair when it comes to finding a meaningful political solution to this problem.

    The gun lobby is right — people kill people. Gun registration focuses on the person, not the gun. So why are they so opposed to it?

    This tension, about who gets to decide who else gets to own a gun, seems to me very much at the heart of the issue.

    Controlling weapon-related violence is a public concern — as are all citizen responsibilities. We owe responsibilities TO OTHERS.

    So what are a gun owner's responsibilities to the public? What should a potential "responsible" gun owner have to demonstrate before exercising his or her right to own a weapon?

    This question usually creates a stunned silence, as if it's unintelligible. The whole premise of gun ownership is to be in a position of personal power (aka "freedom") that permits me to disregard the meddling intrusions of others and think of my own protection and freedom above all else. I, gun owner, owe the public zip.

    I think this flawed view of individual freedom — as much as payload, as much as mental illness, as much as violent media — lies at the heart of this issue. The violence seems to me to speak to a disintegration of community, and the sense of responsibility meaningful community obliges.

    A gun is meant to be used on someone else. What could be more public? Why shouldn't I be asked to prove my willingness and ability to accept the public responsibilities of gun ownership before I'm permitted full exercise of the right?

    Or, put differently — rather than thinking of myself in a closet with two handguns — what if I had to explain and justify to my family, my friends, and my neighbors, why I deserved to exercise my second amendment rights? And what if they had some meaningful say in the matter? "You know, David, you have a pretty bad temper, especially with a couple whiskeys under your belt, and we'd feel more comfortable if you studied martial arts — or knitting — instead."

    Oh yeah? Nobody's telling me I can't own a gun.

    And there you have it.

    I honestly think most gun owners would pass any threshold test for having a gun. But like magazine limits and gun show restrictions, it would add another level of difficulty. What's the problem?

    Someday, we will have a term for the mental state that so values individual autonomy and fears the "oppressive" impositions of others that owning a gun becomes the fetish for my freedom.

    Last: If the 2nd amendment is truly there to protect me from my own government, then I should be able to stockpile RPGs, machine guns, grenades, tanks, F-15s, cruise missiles, nuclear warheads, you name it. Otherwise, it's a fart in the wind.

  22. Tom

    Like Fran, I'm a target shooter. Have been my whole life. What those poor innocents in CT went through and are going through has had me sick at heart since it happened.

    It's a long time since average civilians stood a snowball's chance in a furnace of overthrowing a tyrannical regime. David ran the inventory.

    California has a respectable set of laws to control firearms. I don't object to them. I've never felt the need for more than ten rounds in a magazine, and for most target distances and objectives, five is enough.

    If you're not a shooter in CA, you probably don't know that by law here, any AR-15 or AK variant MUST have a mechanical device (called a 'bullet button') that keeps a magazine from being changed without using a tool to release it. Not a bad idea.

    Against an opponent with two pistols, I'd take the shotgun.

    But this is all beside the real point. Humans shouldn't be killing each other the way we do in this country. Why are we so furious? Why are we so chronically fearful? What is this madness that wants to consume strangers and family? How can we identify it and block it?

    This is not just a hardware issue. It would be nice to believe it is, but this is a multi-part disease that reaches into our national soul.

  23. Gar Haywood

    I'd just like to clarify for everyone here that my post was in no way intended to suggest that guns are the end-all and be-all of solutions to this problem. They aren't. The core issue is, as John Gilstrap has so eloquently pointed out, the anger, depression and self-loathing that invariably seem to be driving people like the Newtown shooter to commit such heinous acts of violence. Getting these people the care they need, before they harm someone, is key to preventing further bloodshed of the kind we witnessed last Friday.

  24. Chris

    When about half of the proposals I've read online contain the words "this is a good start," As I recall, one of the commenters on this post wrote on Facebook "Ban guns. All of them. Ban them." Against that context, I don't think the slippery slope argument is necessarily paranoid bullshit. A discussion requires both sides to be reasonable and rhetoric like "ban all guns" and "NRA-sponsored slaughter of children" doesn't help make for a conversation.

    For the record, I'm not a gun owner and I favor regulation on clip size and elimination of guns whose only use hunting would be to defoliate the area so you can see the deer better. But you can't start with the position that all guns must be banned and gun owners love their guns more than they love children and expect a reasoned discussion.

  25. Michael Fisher

    #3 is simply wrong. If, e.g., the weapon being wielded were a six shot revolver, even a hand cannon like Dirty Harry's .44 Magnum, the shooter would have been forced to stop and take time to reload every six shots. Same with a high powered hunting rifle or even a semi-automatic shotgun, in order of leathality.

    But he didn't have to stop, break open,and reload a revolver. Or flip a shotgun over and feed shells into the magazine.

    He had a civilian copy of an assault rifle with 30 shot clips designed for rapid reloading of the magazine. He could shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot — and then reload, if he'd practiced at all, in literally about two seconds. And resume shooting as fast as he could pull the trigger.

    Take away the assault rifle and there would still be a tragedy. But there'd be many fewer dead.

    So do not discount the importance of creating some sane gun laws that keep weapons of war off the market. Yes, there will still be a black market in such weapons,but remember – this was a legally purchased and owned weapon that in all probability *would not have been there* had the assault weapons ban of 1994 not bee foolishly written to expire in 10 years, or if it had at least been re-authorized. — and many more children and teachers would still be alive.

  26. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Sorry it took me so long to jump into the discussion – I was traveling yesterday.

    And I don't have anything to add – because you said it well, Gar. You said what I've been thinking.

  27. Fran

    Alexandra, when you go to either extreme — "all guns must be allowed" or "all guns must be banned" — the conversation simply stops. Neither side will listen to you after that. In time, perhaps that can happen, but not in today's society. We're simply not ready to go there. There are too many hunters, serious hunters who actually use their weaponry to put food on their tables. There are too many people, like me, who value the skill of being able to fire a gun accurately, never with intent to harm another human, but as a skill on its own merits. But most of us who are rational gun owners know that there must be regulation, that guns cannot be allowed to float freely out there, and we know that current regulation is not effective. But beginning the discussion by going to extremes is simply not going to advance the discussion.

  28. Bronwyn Tudor

    Well, here's my question: how is this about not voting for funding for the mentally ill when this was an affluent family who would have been able to afford services regardless of cost? A lot of people who know next to nothing about mental illness are making a lot of sweeping generalizations. At the very least, it's about a mother who was clueless as a parent. Yes, I do blame someone who gave guns to a son whom she knew was disturbed. The question of parenting isn't just in my mind; the parents were court-ordered to seek parental training as part of their divorce settlement. That rarely happens with affluent families; it's far more likely to be the case in families of lower socioeconomic status.

    I'm not sure it's fair to generalize this young man as mentally ill. it's not fair to a lot of mentally ill people who never commit violent crimes. And describing him as such sort of waters down his accountability.

    Even though the term sociopath comes from mental health vernacular; it's a condition of knowing the difference between right & wrong & still doing the wrong thing, because you simply want to. That's a a lot more about being morally ill.

    I don't know where to weigh in on the gun issue, but it was obviously far too easy for him to get them, and to get the kind of weaponry he had. So access has to become a matter in whatever laws are formed as the result of this tragedy.

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